Novelette review – What The Fox Brings In Its Jaw by Ian O’Brien

Homemade Weather book coverThe second novelette of Homemade Weather: An Anthology of Novelettes in Flash from Retreat West Books draws you into the life of a man who has gone awry. What The Fox Brings In Its Jaw by Ian O’Brien was awarded second place in Retreat West’s novelette-in-flash contest, judged by Damhnait Monaghan.

It begins with a scene of such contemplative observation that it would be easy to miss the significance of the word craving: “Another craving has brought him to the window and he is standing there with a cigarette when he sees it.”

The ‘it’ is a fox passing by with something in its jaws. This vivid visual serves as a metaphor for the entire novelette, where our protagonist drifts from being the fox to, more naturally it seems, being the helpless creature between the predator’s teeth.

None of the characters are named in this exquisitely melancholic novelette, hinting that in one unthinking moment we could find ourselves in such an existence. Snow, blood on snow, and leafless trees, are recurring images, emphasising the perilous wilderness at the edges of our everyday lives. At times, reading this, I felt physically cold.

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Novelette review – Homemade Weather by Tom O’Brien

Homemade Weather book coverThe title novelette of this anthology from Retreat West Books, Homemade Weather by Tom O’Brien was the winning entry in the publisher’s new novelette-in-flash contest, judged by Damhnait Monaghan, and deserves its star position whole-heartedly.

The author immerses us in his protagonist’s world, keeping the focus tight and intimate. Celia Finn lives within view of a mountain that frames her childhood. Rather than bickering like other families in the area, her parents have periods of tense unspoken exchanges that Celia imagines as she sits on the stairs within earshot of what’s unsaid.

Celia is a faithful believer in rituals, and the novelette opens with her writing her name three times, an act that serves both to introduce her to us and to offer a sense of protection as her dog Ollie whistles his last breaths “to the mountain across the valley, with its band of shadowed woods.”

There’s a striking control to O’Brien’s writing – each word chosen with care and each statement neatly balanced to underplay emotions in a way that ensures they seep under our skin. Each sensation felt by Celia is delivered to us with considered care. At the doctor’s, “I felt his peppermint breath turn from me when he sent a look to my mother”, while her parents fail to argue out loud, she wants ‘to go back to my room, to close the door and hear only clean quiet.”

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National Flash Fiction Day flash flood

River mud and debrisNational Flash Fiction Day UK is celebrating its 10th Anniversary on Saturday 26th June 2021. I’m delighted to have a micro flash selected for the FlashFlood.

My tale The Sideways House will appear on the FlashFlood journal at around 10:20 a.m. BST. In case you weren’t aware, the FlashFlood is an annually occurring tsunami-sized outpouring of mini masterpieces. The tireless team at Nat Flash Fiction towers will publish a flash at every five to ten minutes for 24 hours straight, from 00:01 until 23:59 BST.

I can’t wait to see what other wonders are in the stream. As an added treat, I’ll share a film of myself reading The Sideways House at around the same time as it sails out on the flood.

In other news, my wry eco-poem ‘What’s That’, featuring water voles and Rats, has been published by Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, which describes itself as “a website dedicated to the serious art of writing humorous poetry.”

Unstill Life With Plums – a new publication

The Pomegranate coverI’m delighted to have received issue 1 of The Pomegranate, a beautiful new #litmag devoted to stories, poem & essays about art & artists. It contains my flash fiction ‘Unstill Life With Plums’. The tale is under 200 words, and begins:

Our neighbour leaves them on the doorstep, paper-bagged against the sun. We peek inside and inhale their faint, wine-sweet smell. You mix the colour in the lid of your paintbox – red and blue blended with a whisper of green. I check my thigh and admire your skill – the paint’s the exact hue of yesterday’s deep-pinched bruise.

The Pomegranate interviewIssue 1 of The Pomegranate also features a 2-page interview with me (which happens to be many times longer than ‘Unstill Life With Plums’). In it I chat with the journal’s founder Zerlina Mastin about my writing habits, obsession with human fallibilities, passion for art, and my upcoming adventures with Reflex Press.
You can buy your copy of issue 1 here: thepomegranatelondon.com/what-we-publish
The front cover is by American artist Shelton Walsmith, who describes his work as lyrical abstraction. I think a lot of my stories could be described the same way!

Book review – The Yet Unknowing World by Fiona J Mackintosh

The Yet Unknowing WorldLayered like skeins of vivid ribbons, the stories in Fiona J. Mackintosh’s flash fiction collection The Yet Unknowing World strew colours through their readers’ minds.

Each tethers a moment in time, offering a sense of eavesdropping on stranger’s secrets. Many are portraits of love, others a sidewise glance at grief or betrayal. Woven by Mackintosh’s deft fingers, even the deepest losses are shared as exquisite parcels to be marvelled over. In ‘Hindsight’, the author opens with an image of cartwheels and trailing silk, before revealing that it’s these slippery fabrics that led to our narrator waking with his “heart fractured.”

There’s poetry whirled into these tales, and imagery rich enough to leave your senses tingling. Though most of the stories are only a paragraph or so long, they’re packed with details that evoke more than the sum of their words, and yet lie lightly on the page.

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The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain – a new collection

Rocky Mountains_Judy Darley
I’m excited to share the happy news that Reflex Press will be publishing my third short fiction collection in 2022. The title is ‘The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain’, taken from one of the shortest stories in the collection in which a house encompasses the whole world…

I included the following introduction in my submission to Reflex Press. If you’re planning to submit a collection to a publisher, I highly recommend you create something similar to ease them in. This is the second time I’ve done this, and both times it’s culminated in a publishing contract. It also provides them with some copy to share with the announcement and whet readers’ appetites.

The stories in this collection speak of togetherness and separation: how we strive to connect with that one person who could save us, how we attempt to save the people who matter to us and how we sometimes (often) get things wrong.

Consider the things we slowly come to understand, and then can’t grasp how we didn’t know sooner. Not all is as it first appears. Genders and time frames may skew; perceptions warp. What seems to be unreal may be real, or vice versa. Magic may uncurl in the most commonplace corners. Everyday concerns shuttle past minor miracles.

Discover the lost, the self-conscious, the reckless. Learn how to milk an alpaca. Encounter a river with one thing on its mind. Touch on moments of isolation amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Find out how a ghost-tree could bring a community together. Witness the moment when friendship sparks into something more. Consume a life in one mouthful. Meet the lovers, the families and the undefinable others who make up these worlds and sweep us along.

It’s so good to have something positive to look forward to!

Sign up for updates on the Reflex Press website here.

Sky Light Rain – Merrow Cave

Iona Abbey carving cr Judy DarleyI can never resist a ‘behind-the-scenes’ glimpse into the workings of a creative endeavour. It’s why I launched this series of posts offering insights into the inspiration behind the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

The thirty-second story is ‘Merrow Cave’. It tells the story of a young boy, Callum, who is sent to live with his aunt and granddad on a remote island when his mum is unwell, and discovers a rather fishy family secret.

The story grew from someone telling me how their ageing grandma was forgetting her English and reverting to her mother tongue, which his granddad had never learnt, so that it was as though the grandma was being cast adrift with no one to understand her.

The route I took to explore this sorry situation wove in marine folklore, in particular Irish tales of mermaids, or the merrow. Imagine if your relative came from a world more alien than simply being from another country? How could those differences reemerge as they aged and grew frail?

Introducing Callum as the protagonist gave me an opportunity to examine the scene with an outsider’s eyes. Relocating him from his inland home to the windswept isle makes him feels as out of place as his grandma is becoming.

‘Merrow Cave’ was one of those rare tales that seemed to almost write itself, as though carried by a tide I had little control over.

‘Merrow Cave’ was originally published by Querty Magazine, the literary journal of University of New Brunswick Department of English in Canada.

The story begins:

It’s carved into the side of the rock – a face tilted to one side, hair streaming behind. The jaw is angular and strong, the whole thing larger than life.

Running his hands over the smooth stone of the cheeks and nose, Callum senses it again, that feeling of someone behind him, watching. He lets his arms drop to his sides and turns, slowly, gazing into the darkness at the rear of the cave. The shadows are so deep he feels blind for a moment, but then there’s something, a movement of some sort, and the thin light crawling in from the entrance snags on something back there.

“Hello?” he calls, and his voice bleeds back to him, causing him to shudder with self-consciousness. He wants to run outside into the sunshine, but as the last echoes ebb away, he hears something very like a cough being stifled. Whatever it is in the darkness, it sounds unwell.

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my other Sky Light Rain stories by clicking on the story titles below.

Discover the inspiration behind ‘Untrue Blue‘. 
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Weaving Wings’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Woman and Birds’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Shaped from Clay’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Knotted Rope’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Two Pools of Water’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Apollo’s Offspring’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fascinate’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘A Blackbird’s Heart’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Paper Flowers’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Strawberry Thief’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Moth Room’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Far From the Farm’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Flamingos and Ham’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lamp Black’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Elevated Truths’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Little Blessings’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lodged’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Invertebrates’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Geese Among the Trees’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Blue Suitcase’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Distant Storms‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Sculptor‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Underwire’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breathing Water’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Reeds and Curlews.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fin‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Blossoming Almond Tree‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Milk and Other Lies‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Edge of the Sand‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘What Rises’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Carry the Sky’.

If you’d like to request a review copy of Sky Light Rain or interview me about my writing, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

 

Sky Light Rain – Underwire

Underwire by Judy DarleyHave you ever created a fictional character who gained traits and powers you didn’t expect? You may have noticed that for a while now I’ve been offering ‘behind-the-scenes’ insights into the inspiration that prompted the flash fiction and short stories that make up my Valley Press collection Sky Light Rain.

A few weeks ago, entirely unintentionally, I completely skipped over my story ‘Underwire’. This tale is the twenty-seventh in the collection, and should have appeared in this series of posts between ‘The Sculptor‘ and ‘Breathing Water‘.

This most curious thing about this omission is that ‘Underwire’ tells the tale of a woman who chooses to disappear.

It originally washed up in issue 67 (Winter/Spring 2018) of Tears In The Fence.

The image above shows where the story ends. It begins:

The pebbles of the beach are cold lumps beneath my soles. A January wind whistles in from the sea, but I ignore the goosebumps sprigging my flesh and with effort I think the core of me into heat. That’s a trick, imagining an inferno lit at the centre of my gut, flames licking the ropes of intestines and keeping me warm.

The whole world is dressed in shades of bruises today – bluish pebbles, the greenish sea, a sky like slabs of ice above.

I glance up the beach; see the violet trim of my sneakers where I kicked them off a few steps back. Nearby, my socks lounge untidily like patches of lichen or moss. 

Sky Light Rain is published by Valley Press and is available to purchase here.

Discover the inspiration behind my other Sky Light Rain stories by clicking on the story titles below.

Discover the inspiration behind ‘Untrue Blue‘. 
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Weaving Wings’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Woman and Birds’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Shaped from Clay’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Knotted Rope’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Two Pools of Water’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Apollo’s Offspring’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Puppeteer’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fascinate’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘A Blackbird’s Heart’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Paper Flowers’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Strawberry Thief’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Moth Room’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Far From the Farm’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breaking Up With You Burns Like Fire’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Flamingos and Ham’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lamp Black’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Elevated Truths’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Not Every Wound Can Heal’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Little Blessings’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Lodged’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Invertebrates’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Geese Among the Trees’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Blue Suitcase’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Distant Storms‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘The Sculptor‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Breathing Water’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Reeds and Curlews.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Fin‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Blossoming Almond Tree‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Merrow Cave‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Milk and Other Lies‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Edge of the Sand‘.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘What Rises’.
Discover the inspiration behind ‘Carry the Sky’.

If you’d like to request a review copy of Sky Light Rain or interview me about my writing, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Enter Oxford Flash Fiction Prize 2021

Oxford University buildings. Photo by Judy Darley. Photo of old buildings in the English city of Oxford.Oxford Flash Fiction Prize 2021 invites you to submit your finest flash fiction tale for a chance to get 2021 off to an excellent start.

The deadline is 31 January 2021.

The word limit is 1,000.

  • First prize is £1000.
  • Second prize is £200.
  • Third prize is £100.

Shortlisted entrants will be offered the chance to be published in the end of year digital anthology.

You can choose to enter one flash at £6, two at £10 or three at £14.

A limited number of free entries are available to low-income writers. Find out more here.

Rules of entry

  • All entries must be formatted as a single-spaced word document or PDF.
    Font: Arial, 12pt. This is to standardise entries so that all stories are treated equally. Only entries that are under the 1000-word limit (not including the title) will be accepted.
  • All entries must include the title of the story but not the name or address, or any identifying information of the entrant.
  • This is an international competition, and all entries must be in English.
  • All entries must be the work of the person entering and must not have been published anywhere online (including blogs and websites) or accepted for publication elsewhere. The copyright remains with the author.
  • Entries will not be accepted without payment, and any entries that do not comply with the competition rules will be disqualified.
  • No corrections post-entry can be accepted or refunds given.
  • The results of the competition will be published online and the decision of the judge(s) will be final.
  • The closing date for entries is midnight (UK time) on the 31st January. Winners will be notified by email within six weeks of the closing dates.

Find full details here.

Published stories – October 2020

Photo by MIKHAIL VASILYEV on Unsplash

This photo by Mikhail Vasilyev on Unsplash illustrates my story ‘Kitten Heeled.’

While the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, including within my own home, October has seen a generous number of my short fictions published, which has offered some light in the fog.

Last week, two tales inspired by real life moments found homes. The second, ‘Calamities of Varied Weights‘, is now live at The Daily Drunk. It covers a real day out with my teenage niece and nephew back in February 2020, rainfall, grumpiness and all.

The first, ‘Kitten Heeled‘, has been published by The Art of Everyone. It captures a moment from my childhood. Adam at The Art used a royalty-free photo I supplied, shown at the top of this post.

Uh-Oh Books published their beautiful Wild and Green kids’ magazine featuring my children’s story ‘Grace Under Lockdown‘, about a grey seal coping with noisy, messy humans! Marine Conservation Society helped with insights.
On 5th October, Dream Journal published a teeny tiny pandemic flash fiction inspired by my middle nephew – ‘Ezra Can Stand on One Foot Forever.’
So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library

Earlier in October, wonderful book post arrived from Indianapolis – the ninth edition of So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, containing my hopeful story ‘Reaching Branches‘, which is about a newcomer to a suburb seeking a way to forge a sense of community.

The folks at the journal say: “The journal has become well recognized in the writing and artistic community. This year, we received 267 entries for 65 slots, so the selection process was challenging. Here are a few stats: Of those selected: 41 men, 24 women, and 12 veterans. Fourteen of our contributors are from Indiana; 42 are from out of state; and 9 are international. The journal features 38 poems, 17 prose pieces, 10 photographs, and 9 works of art.”

Extraordinary to have my work selected out of 267 submissions, and as one of only 24 by women and nine from overseas!

To top it all off, today is the book birthday of my short story and flash fiction collection, Sky Light Rain. Happy first birthday, Book 2!

Sky Light Rain by Judy Darley